We have passed the Winter Solstice, although the sun will appear to stationary on the horizon for another day or so. Christmas, the day when Sol’s journey north is evident to the unaided observer, quickly approaches.
Last night we hosted a Winter Solstice gathering. The Winter Solstice does not necessarily have the same meaning, traditionally, to Indigenous people in the Americas as it does in Europe’s Celtic countries. I, personally, find the Solstices, both Winter and Summer, to be deeply meaningful, as did some of my teachers. This year, in the light of last week’s school killings, the season’s gathering darkness and promise of returning light have taken on a new resonance.
As we stood in a circle in the darkened room, an Abenaki elder, a wise woman healer, held the sole lit candle and spoke into the center of that circle her concerns and prayers for all beings. She then extended her candle to the person to her left, who in turn lit their candle and spoke words to the spirits, Ancestors, and Creator. In the circle were persons, many elders, representing diverse ethnicities, including at least five Indian nations. Our shared grief, shock, and bewilderment cut across ethnic and racial differences, as did our hope. Much was shared as the candles were lit, one at a time, and the light of each person was added till we stood before each other, illumined.
The evening began at six, and the ceremony and potluck meal were over by eight. Small groups of people sat and talked. Stories were shared, new friendships began, and old acquaintances renewed. Periodically someone stole back to the kitchen and raided what was left of the feast. Slowly folks gathered their belongings and said their “goodnights.” There was a rich magic, a heady brew of community and belonging that included the spirits and Ancestors. At a few minutes past ten, the last guest left. She had stayed to help us clean up.
The Solstice has passed, and with it the threat and promise of the world’s imminent end. Yet not all remains the same, for in some only partially acknowledged way our world did end last week. In the aftermath we are faced with our grief, fear, and anger, and offered the possibility of new beginnings, including, perhaps, the creation of a society based on accountability, compassion, and the fierce insistence on the sanctity of all life.